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Sex, Laws and Legal Tape

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Gender Equality
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Background

The women’s conference in Beijing in 1995 emphasised that what was needed in law making bodies was enough women to have an impact (not just two or three or six), to show that women could really make an effective contribution to public affairs. It popularised the idea that one-third women (33%) should be enough.

Kenyan women picked up the Beijing ball, and ran with it. In 1997 there was an effort to get the law changed to require parties to have at least one-third women candidates. No law was passed, but the failure spurred the establishment of the Women’s Political Caucus who “rejected the role of merely saying prayers, making tea and dancing for politicians during meetings”, as two authors put it.

In the past, there have not been many women in Kenya’s Parliament. Before 2010, there were 222 MPs: 210 for constituencies and 12 “nominated”. The latter were chosen by parties after the election results were in, and were supposed to be the voice of groups with inadequate representation, including women. For example, in 2007 sixteen women were elected for constituencies, and six nominated – just 10%. One woman elected in a by-election in 2008 brought the total up to 11%.

Now we have 349 MPs and 67 senators. Not more than two-thirds men would mean 117 women in the National Assembly and 23 in the Senate.

At the end of the 1990s, FIDA Kenya (International Federation of Women Lawyers) argued that under a new Constitution 30% of the seats in Parliament should be reserved for women. In fact, they said, law should reserve one-third of the seats in all public bodies for women. (Of course, 30% is not one third. In our current National Assembly of 349 members, the difference between the two is eleven).

Making a constitution

In 2001 the first official body to work on a new constitution started work: the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (usually called the CKRC). The Act of Parliament setting it up said its task included gender equity. Seven CKRC members were women— 26% of the regular members, not the 50% that FIDA had demanded, or even one third. But they included formidable women such as Phoebe Asiyo who had entered Parliament in 1979 (one of only three women), Nancy Baraza, former chair of FIDA, Professor Wanjiku Kabira, founding secretary of the Women’s Political Caucus, and Salome Muigai, gender and disability activist.

“One-third women” became “not more than two-thirds of either gender” at the Bomas conference. Of course it is logical, but the language reflects the male fight-back against women’s demands.

Between 2002 and 2010, there were about eight versions of a new Constitution. All talked about the need to have one third women or “not more than two thirds of either gender”. The CKRC proposed an electoral system that would have guaranteed that at least 45 members out of a house of 300 (15%) were women. National Constitutional Conference at Bomas in 2003-4 replaced this with something quite like the current system: this could have produced 25% women in the National Assembly (the percentage was not clear because, while it named each district/county and gave each a woman member, it left it to Parliament to fix the number of ordinary constituencies).

The idea of “topping-up” with extra women to ensure one third women in county assemblies was in draft constitutions ever since Bomas. But the second draft by the Committee of Experts (CoE) included the same system for the National Assembly and the Senate as well as the county assemblies. The Parliamentary Select Committee that reviewed the draft in early 2010 removed this except for county assemblies. This is important because this is the system that Parliament was most recently discussing.

Incidentally, “one third women” became “not more than two thirds of either gender” at Bomas (let’s call this principle “not>⅔” for short). Of course it is logical, but the language reflects the male fight-back against women’s demands. However, women have sometimes found it useful in argument: not more than two-thirds, they say, means precisely that. There should be no “rounding” of numbers.

The 2010 Constitution

The Constitution seems to make making a clear commitment to not>⅔, particularly in elected bodies, with some provisions about “appointive bodies” (like the cabinet, commissions, the public service, judiciary and various boards and authorities). But it is not always really clear what has to be done, and how and when.

Only in county assemblies is not>⅔ totally guaranteed. After the ward election results are announced, and four seats assigned to parties to represent marginalised groups, including persons with disabilities and the youth, the question is: will more than two-thirds of the seats be occupied by men? If “Yes”, the Constitution provides that enough women must be selected to ensure not>⅔ are men. These extra women are taken from lists of candidates put forward by each party before the election. And the number of these extra members that each party gets depends on how many ward seats the parties have won.

On the Senate, the Constitution has rules making it much easier to achieve not>⅔, but not guaranteeing it. Senate must have 16 extra women and two women to represent persons with disability and marginalised groups. So there is a guarantee that just under 27% of the Senate will be women. If only five women are elected as county Senators, not>⅔ would be achieved. But in 2013 no woman was elected county Senator!

The Constitution takes us less far towards not>⅔ in the National Assembly. It does guarantee 47 seats for women—county women representatives. Though there are 12 seats for marginalised groups (often called “nominated”), there is no guarantee of how many will be women, though probably not less than four. Progress towards not>⅔ could be slow. To get there under the existing rules, 65 women would have to be elected for regular constituencies. In 2013 only 16 of those constituencies (just under 6%) elected women: a smaller percentage than in the 2007 elections. Providing specific seats for county women representatives tended to discourage parties from putting forward women for regular seats: they argued that “women have their special seats”.

“Promote” is not the same as “guarantee” or “ensure”.  Incentives, education and persuasion may be forms of promotion, but they do not guarantee representation.

The Constitution also clearly says “Not more than two-thirds of the members of any county executive committee shall be of the same gender” (Article 197). The Governor has a free hand in appointing executive members, so it should be easy to ensure that there are enough women. The same should be true of the President appointing the Cabinet.

Another possible approach is not to require certain behaviour, but provide an incentive – like money. Two early draft constitutions said that Parliament must pass law about how much political parties would get from the Political Parties Fund, and that one factor should be how many women candidates each party had got elected. But the Parliamentary Select Committee removed this, wanting Parliament to have a free hand in deciding how the Fund was used.

Article 81 does not say how the result is to be achieved: the electoral system must comply with several principles— including not>⅔ in elective public bodies. But what is a principle? Does it mean “This must happen and must happen now”, or “Later will do” or just “Make an effort”?

Article 27(8) is also important, and equally puzzling: the State must do what is necessary “to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender”.

Finally, Article 100 says that law “promoting” representation of women and disadvantaged groups must be passed within five years. “Promote” is not the same as “guarantee” or “ensure”. Incentives, education and persuasion may be forms of promotion. In fact, the most sensible meaning of Article 100 is that it is about something different from special rules, like at least one-third women. It is about ensuring that, over time, parties and people are encouraged and educated to accept women and disadvantaged groups as legislators.

After the Constitution

In 2013, the IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) and the parties had no choice: there had to be 47 women county members of the National Assembly, and 12 extra members of the same body – taken from lists that had to alternate men and women (often called zebra lists); there had to be 18 extra women members of the Senate and top-up members of the county assemblies. Every county’s assembly has been “topped up” this way. So every county has one third women (no less —but also no more). Senate got just the guaranteed 27% women. The National Assembly had 19% women: 16 elected for constituencies, the 47 county women and 5 of the 12 extra members.

And most commissions and other public bodies have one-third women. The same is not always true of government executives: nationally or in the counties. Early on, a FIDA report found that only 16 of the county executives had as many as one third women.

Despite fine words about the Constitution and women’s rights, the Court of Appeal did almost nothing to move the Supreme Court towards not>⅔.

In short, appointers to bodies have usually done what they had to and no more—and sometimes not even that.

Most interest (in the media and in the courts) has been in not>⅔ in Parliament. So we shall look at that saga in detail. But first, the court cases about appointive bodies.

The Courts on “appointive bodies”

There have been two particularly important cases.

One, in 2011, was brought by FIDA about the composition of the Supreme Court, with two women and seven men (over 70% men). Despite fine words about the Constitution and women’s rights, the Court of Appeal did almost nothing to move the Supreme Court towards not>⅔. The Court of Appeal read 27(8) as though it demanded “progressive realisation” or gradual movement towards not>⅔, and did not create any immediate duty. But “progressive” is not there. To be fair to the Court of Appeal, teasing out the meaning of 27(8) is not easy.

And it said that the Judicial Service Commission—which selects the judges—did nothing wrong. It suggested that the JSC could do nothing until the government passed law or took some other measures to ensure not>⅔. But this ignores that Article 27(8) puts the duty on “the State” not just the government, and the JSC is part of the State. Indeed, because the JSC is an independent commission, there is very little the government or Parliament can do to tell it how to work.

In 2017, the issue came up again—brought by the National Gender and Equality Commission. Justice Chacha Mwita was happy to decide that two thirds of seven is five, leaving little room for requiring efforts to make the Supreme Court truly gender equal. He did not explain what the Constitution means when it says the JSC must promote gender equality.

In the second case, in 2017, the make-up of the cabinet was challenged. Justice Onguto held that Article 27(8) did apply to the cabinet, and had been violated because cabinet had more than two thirds men. However, because of the imminent election he said the cabinet did not have to be changed immediately, but a wrongly made-up cabinet after the election would be invalid. He did not accept the idea that this was a matter for progressive realisation.

Trying to get not>⅔ in Parliament

The IEBC

The IEBC and its predecessor the Interim Independent Election Commission did try to ensure not>⅔ in Parliament. An expert proposed a novel system: every candidate in a regular constituency would have to run on a “ticket” of a woman and a man. Voters would vote for the ticket not the individual. If a “ticket” won, usually the first name on the ticket—man or woman—would become the MP. But, after all results were in, if not enough women had seats, the women rather than the men from winning tickets would have been taken, until enough women were taken. The taking-the-women process would have begun with the tickets that had won, but the least resoundingly (by the smallest proportion of the votes cast). It wasn’t a perfect system—independent candidates particularly presented a problem. But it would have meant no-one had to give up the chance to stand because of their gender, and women would have had a chance to stand in every constituency, learn about campaigning etc. And it would not have needed a change in the Constitution.

But the IIEC preferred another system: grouping constituencies into fours, and designating one of each four as a “women only” constituency for one election. This could have been done without amending the Constitution. But the idea did not get past Cabinet. Men could not bear the idea of not being able to stand for “their” constituencies.

So in 2013 there was no mechanism to ensure not>⅔.

Enter the courts

The question of not>⅔ in Parliament went to court just before the 2013 elections; the case was brought by CREAW (Centre for Rights Education and Awareness). A majority of the Supreme Court decided that “principles” were not firm rules. And affirmative action, like special measures to get women into Parliament, was something to be achieved gradually. So Parliament with under 33% women would not be immediately unconstitutional. A bit like the FIDA case on the Supreme Court.

Because the JSC is an independent commission, there is very little the government or Parliament can do to tell it how to work.

Chief Justice Willy Mutunga disagreed. He would have insisted on the necessary law being passed then.

The Supreme Court majority seized on Article 100: about law “promoting” representation of women and disadvantaged groups. By 2015, the Court said, the law guaranteeing the gender quota must be in place. This is ingenious, if not perhaps what the drafters intended. But what the Supreme Court says is the law.

The Attorney-General

The Attorney General set up a Task Force. It considered various solutions including the two systems just mentioned, and others, most of which would have needed a change to the Constitution—except financial incentives to parties to strive for women to win their seats.

The MPs

Bills were introduced into Parliament to amend the Constitution to ensure not>⅔. The MPs just did not turn up in sufficient numbers to pass the Bills.

Parliament did amend the Political Parties Act to include a provision that says that 15% of the Political Parties Fund must be distributed to parties based on how many “special interest group” members were elected for the parties at the preceding general election. Women are among the “special interest groups”. This may not help much. Last time, only three parties got anything from the Fund. Even with recently changed rules for allocating the Fund, no more than four parties will get money from it after the 2017 elections if the pattern of seats won is like last time. Finally, though the Fund is not small, is it enough to persuade parties to change deep-seated prejudices?

The courts again

In 2015, Justice Mumbi Ngugi held, in another case brought by CREAW, that Parliament must pass the necessary law by the Supreme Court’s deadline. So Parliament extended the deadline. Soon after the National Assembly missed this new extended deadline, CREAW went back to court. Justice Mativo decided this case on March 29th 2017. He ruled that Parliament had failed to do what the Supreme Court had directed. He told them they had to do it by May 29th, otherwise anyone could apply to the Chief Justice asking for an order that Parliament should be dissolved (which means an election). This is because the Constitution says that if Parliament does not comply with a court order to make a law implementing the Constitution, anyone may apply to the Chief Justice. And the Chief Justice must ask the President to dissolve Parliament, and the President must do so.

Bills were introduced into Parliament to amend the Constitution to ensure not>⅔. The MPs just did not turn up in sufficient numbers to pass the Bills.

But changing the voting system is not the only way to get more women. One other court case suggested that one way is for parties to put forward enough women candidates, and for the IEBC should pressurise parties to do so. The court agreed. But the judge said that because time was short, he would not order this for 2017. But for next time the IEBC must take this approach. In fact, the IEBC has said that it has tried to do it this time, but it cannot force the parties.

This approach does have shortcomings: a party might nominate women as candidates for half its constituencies, but if these were constituencies the party was least likely to win, it might end up with well under one-third women members actually elected. However, last time, 15% of women ward MCA candidates got elected—the same as men. But a large number of (mostly male) independent candidates might also produce more male members.

Conclusion

We waited for Parliament. Could it push through a constitutional amendment in time? Might it try the women-only constituency system rule, or the two-name ticket approach—so avoiding constitutional amendment? But was there time before the election to do the necessary new nominations? Or would it fail to meet the court’s deadline?

Now we know: Parliament discussed amending the Constitution to introduce top-up seats for women. This has been their favourite approach because existing MPs wanted to hang on to their chances. It would have been the least complex system to administer so close to the elections. If it had been passed, and if the results were the same in terms of numbers of seats held by women as in 2013, to achieve not>⅔ the National Assembly would have had to have 73 top-up women—and a total of 422 members.

Anyway, Parliament failed. How hard did it try? On June 6th the National Assembly debated the Bill, but after that the members perhaps realised the effort was pointless—despite being on the House’s agenda repeatedly, nothing was done before they closed finally on June 15th. And it had not gone to Senate!

No-one seems to have gone to the Chief Justice. Probably everyone realised this would not have helped. There is already to be an election —less than two months after Justice Mativo’s deadline. And the IEBC is struggling to be ready by then.

But changing the voting system is not the only way to get more women. One other court case suggested that one way is for parties to put forward enough women candidates, and for the IEBC should pressurise parties to do so.

We have some time to rethink strategies, including whether we want an even more “bloated” National Assembly. And, let’s think about the position of women representatives. In the National Assembly only 16 were elected on the same basis as most men: competing in a constituency. The forty-seven county members have roles less well understood by the public, and with larger constituencies to manage; and five are list members with roles also less well understood. In the Senate: all have unclear roles, not representing counties, unlike most of the men. In the counties, most of the women are list members, without ward responsibilities or support, so again having a role that is not clear to everyone. Is this satisfactory? Do we want even more of these sorts of seats for women? However, many of these women have been active members. One indication may be how well women who have served as “nominated members” in the current Parliament or county assemblies are able to use that experience as a springboard to election for regular constituencies, wards, counties or even governorships.

A report says that this time, 11 women are standing for Governor (there were only six last time), and 42 for Senator (17 last time), but the picture is sketchy so far. However, a final thought: suppose—by a miracle—in August five women are elected Senator and 65 women are elected as constituency MPs, so neither house has more than two-thirds men. Would that not be a better solution? Would it be the end of the story?

The sting in the tail

Now for the bad (or worse) news: some have said that the new Parliament would also risk being dissolved if it fails to pass this law. But, the Constitution (it’s Article 261(8)) says that the period Parliament gets to pass a law begins again when the new Parliament begins its term. For Article100—the peg on which the Supreme Court hung its ruling in the CREAW case— the implementation period allowed is five years. No Parliament will last more than five years. So the CREAW case technique will never work again.

But the constitutional principles still apply. Article 100 is not an essential aspect of the achievement of the “not more than two thirds” rule. In his minority decision in the original CREAW case, Chief Justice Mutunga was clear that “any of the elected houses that violate this principle will be unconstitutional and the election of that house shall be null and void.” Will the courts agree?

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Jill Cottrell Ghai has been a Professor of Law at numerous universities, including Ife and Ahmadu Bello Universities in Nigeria, Warwick University and the University of Hong Kong. She also has extensive experience in advising on constitutions, including in Kenya, Nepal and Iraq.

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Politics

Beyond Political Freedom to Inclusive Wealth Creation and Self-Reliance

Malawi can alleviate poverty and become a model for development and democracy by investing in and improving the quality of human capital, the quality of infrastructure, and the quality of institutions.

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Beyond Political Freedom to Inclusive Wealth Creation and Self-Reliance
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The Tonse Alliance that made history in June by winning the rerun of the presidential election, the first time this has happened in Africa. It represented a triumph of Malawian democracy, undergirded, on the one hand, by the independence of the judiciary, and on the other, by the unrelenting political resilience and struggles of the Malawian people for democratic governance. In short, we can all be proud of Malawi’s enviable record of political freedom. However, our democratic assets are yet to overcome huge developmental deficits. Our record of economic development and poverty eradication remains dismal, uneven, and erratic.

Malawi’s persistent underdevelopment does not, of course, emanate from lack of planning. In 1962, Dunduzu Chisiza convened “what was perhaps the first international symposium on African Economic Development to be held on the continent”. It brought renowned economists from around the world and Africa. In attendance was a young journalist, Thandika Mkandawire, who was inspired to study economics, and rose to become one of the world’s greatest development economists. I make reference to Chisiza and Mkandawire to underscore a simple point: Malawi has produced renowned and influential development thinkers and policy analysts, whose works need to be better known in this country. If we are to own our development, instead of importing ready-made and ill-suited models from the vast development industry that has not brought us much in terms of inclusive and sustainable development, we have to own the generation of development ideas and implementation.

I begin, first, by giving some background on the county’s development trajectory; and second, by identifying the three key engines of development – the quality of human capital, the quality of infrastructure, and the quality of institutions – without which development is virtually impossible.

Malawi’s development trajectory and challenges

Malawi’s patterns of economic growth since independence have been low and volatile, which has translated into uneven development and persistent poverty. A 2018 World Bank report identifies five periods. First, 1964-1979, during which the country registered its fastest growth at 8.79%. Second, 1980-1994, the era of draconian structural adjustment programmes when growth fell to 0.90%. Third, 1995-2002 when growth rose slightly to 2.85%. Fourth, 2003-2010, when growth bounced to 6.25%. Finally, 2011-2015, when growth declined to 3.82%. Another World Bank report, published in July 2020, notes that the economy grew at 3.2% in 2017, 3.0% in 2018, an estimated 4.4% in 2019, and will likely grow at 2.0% in 2020 and 3.5% in 2021.

Clearly, Malawi has not managed to sustain consistently high growth rates above the rates of population growth. Consequently, growth in per capita income has remained sluggish and poverty reduction has been painfully slow. In fact, while up to 1979 per capita GDP grew at an impressive 3.7%, outperforming sub-Saharan Africa, it shrunk below the regional average after 1980. It rose by a measly 1.5% between 1995 and 2015, well below the 2.7% for non-resource-rich African economies. Currently, Malawi is the sixth poorest country in the world.

While the rates of extreme poverty declined from 24.5% in 2010/11 to 20.1% in 2016/17, moderate poverty rates increased from 50.7% to 51.5% during the same period. Predictably, poverty has a gender and spatial dimension. Women and female-headed households tend to be poorer than men and male-headed households. Most of the poor live in the rural areas because they tend to have lower levels of access to education and assets, and high dependency ratios compared to urban dwellers, who constitute only 15% of the population. Rural poverty is exacerbated by excessive reliance on rain-fed agriculture and vulnerability to climate change because of poor resilience and planning. In the urban areas, poverty is concentrated in the informal sector that employs the majority of urban dwellers and suffers from low productivity and incomes, and poor access to capital and skills.

While the rates of extreme poverty declined from 24.5% in 2010/11 to 20.1% in 2016/17, moderate poverty rates increased from 50.7% to 51.5% during the same period. Predictably, poverty has a gender and spatial dimension.

The causes and characteristics of Malawi’s underdevelopment are well-known. The performance of the key sectors – agriculture, industry, and services – is not optimal. While agriculture accounts for two-thirds of employment and three-quarters of exports, it provides only 30% of GDP, a clear sign of low levels of productivity in the sector. Apparently, only 1.7% of total expenditure on agriculture and food goes to extension, and one extension agent in Malawi covers between 1,800 and 2,500 farmers, compared to 950 in Kenya and 480 in Ethiopia. As for irrigation, the amount of irrigated land stands at less than 4%.

Therefore, raising agricultural productivity is imperative. This includes greater crop diversification away from the supremacy of maize, improving rural markets and transport infrastructure, provision of agricultural credit, use of inputs and better farming techniques, and expansion of irrigation and extension services. Commercialisation of agriculture, land reform to strengthen land tenure security, and strengthening the sector’s climate resilience are also critical.

In terms of industry, the pace of job creation has been slow, from 4% of the labour force in 1998 to 7% in 2013. In the meantime, the share of manufacturing’s contribution to the country’s GDP has remained relatively small and stagnant, at 10%. The sector is locked in the logic of import substitution, which African countries embarked on after independence and is geared for the domestic market.

Export production needs to be vigorously fostered as well. It is reported that manufacturing firms operate on average at just 68 per cent capacity utilisation. This suggests that, with the right policy framework, Malawi’s private sector could produce as much as a third more than current levels without needing to undertake new investment.

After independence, Malawi, like many other countries, created policies and parastatals, and sought to nurture a domestic capitalist class and attract foreign capital in pursuit of industrialisation. The structural adjustment programmes during Africa’s “lost decades” of the 1980s and 1990s aborted the industrialisation drive of the 1960s and 1970s, and led to de-industrialisation in many countries, including Malawi. The revival and growth of industrialisation require raising the country’s competitiveness and improving access to finance, the state of the infrastructure, the quality of human capital, and levels of macroeconomic stability.

Over the last two decades, Malawi has improved its global competitiveness indicators, but it needs to and can do more. According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business, which covers 12 areas of business regulation, Malawi improved its ranking from 132 out of 183 countries in 2010 to 109 out of 190 countries in 2020; in 2020 Malawi ranked 12th in Africa. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, a four-pronged framework that looks at the enabling environment – markets, human capital, and the innovation ecosystem – Malawi ranked 119 out of 132 countries in 2009 and 128 out of 141 countries in 2019.

Access to finance poses significant challenges to the private sector, especially among small and medium enterprises that are often the backbone of any economy. The banking sector is relatively small, and borrowing is constrained by high interest rates, stringent collateral requirements, and complex application procedures. In addition, levels of financial inclusion and literacy could be greatly improved. The introduction of the financial cash transfer programme and mobile money have done much to advance both.

Corruption is another financial bottleneck, a huge and horrendous tax against development. The accumulation of corruption scandals – Cashgate in 2013, Maizegate in 2018, Cementgate and other egregious corruption scandals in 2020 – is staggering in its mendacity and robbery of the county’s development and future by corrupt officials that needs to be uncompromisingly uprooted.

Malawi’s infrastructure deficits are daunting. Access to clean water and energy remains low, at 10%, and frequent electricity outages are costly for manufacturing firms that report losing 5.1% in annual sales; 40.9% of the firms have been forced to have generators as backup. The country’s generating capacity needs massive expansion to close the growing gap between demand and supply. Equally critical is investment in transport and its resilience to contain the high costs of domestic and international trade that undermine private sector development and poverty reduction.

Digital technologies and services are indispensable for 21st century economies, an area in which Malawi lags awfully behind. According to the ICT Development Index by the International Telecommunications Union, in 2017 Malawi ranked 167 out of 176 countries. There are significant opportunities to overcome the infrastructure deficits in terms of strengthening the country’s transport systems through regional integration, developing renewable energy sources, and improving the regulatory environment. Developing a digitally-enabled economy requires enhancing digital infrastructure, connectivity, affordability, availability, literacy, and innovation.

Malawi’s infrastructure deficits are daunting. Access to clean water and energy remains low, at 10%, and frequent electricity outages are costly for manufacturing firms that report losing 5.1% in annual sales.

The services sector has grown rapidly, accounting for 29% of the labor force in 2013 up from 12% in 1998. It is dominated by the informal sector which is characterized by low productivity, labor underutilization, and dismal incomes. The challenge is how to improve these conditions and facilitate transition from informality to formality.

Enablers and drivers of development

The challenges of promoting Malawi’s socio-economic growth and development are not new. In fact, they are so familiar that they induce fatalism among some people as if the country is doomed to eternal poverty. Therefore, it is necessary to go back to basics, to ask basic questions and become uncomfortable with the county’s problems, with low expectations about our fate and future.

From the vast literature on development, to which Thandika made a seminal contribution, there are many dynamics and dimensions of development. Three are particularly critical, namely, the quality of human capital, the quality of infrastructure, and the quality of institutions. In turn, these enablers require the drivers embodied in the nature of leadership, the national social contract, and mobilisation and cohesiveness of various capitals.

The quality of human capital encompasses the levels of health and education. Since 2000, Malawi has made notable strides in improving healthcare and education, which has translated into rising life expectancy and literacy rates. For the health sector, it is essential to enhance the coverage, access and quality of health services, especially in terms of reproductive, maternal, neonatal, and early child development, and public health services, as well as food security and nutrition services.

The introduction of free primary education in 1994 was a game changer. Enrollment ratios for primary school rose dramatically, reaching 146% in 2013 and 142% in 2018, and for secondary school from 44% in 2013 to 40% in 2018. The literacy rate reached 62%. But serious challenges remain. Only 19% of students’ progress to Standard Eight without repeating and dropout rates are still high; only 76% of primary school teachers and 57% of secondary school teachers are professionally trained. Despite increased government expenditure, resources and access to education remain inadequate.

Consequently, in 2018 Malawi’s adult literacy was still lower than the averages for sub-Saharan countries (65%) and the least developed countries (63%). This means the skill base in the country is low and needs to be raised significantly through increased, smart and strategic investments in all levels of education. Certainly, special intervention is needed for universities if the country, with its tertiary education enrollment ratio of less than 1%, the lowest in the world, is to catch up with the enrollment ratios for sub-SaharanAfrica and the world as a whole that in 2018 averaged 9% and 38%, respectively.

Human capital development is essential for turning Malawi’s youth bulge into a demographic dividend rather than a demographic disaster. Policies and programmes to skill the youth and make them more productive are vital to harnessing the demographic dividend. Critical also is accelerating the country’s demographic transition by reducing the total fertility rate.

As for infrastructure, while the government is primarily responsible for building and maintaining it, the private sector has an important role to play, and public-private-partnerships are increasingly critical in many countries. It is necessary to prioritise and avoid wish lists that seek to cater to every ministry or constituency; to concentrate on a few areas that have multiplier effects on various sectors; and ensure the priorities are well-understood and measurable at the end of the government’s five-year term. Often, the development budget doesn’t cover real investment in physical infrastructure and is raided to cover over-expenditure in the recurrent budget.

The quality of institutions entails the state of institutional arrangements, which UNDP defines as “the policies, systems, and processes that organizations use to legislate, plan and manage their activities efficiently and to effectively coordinate with others in order to fulfill their mandate”. Thus, institutional arrangements refer to the organisation, cohesion and synergy of formal structures and networks encompassing the state, the private sector, and civil society, as well as informal norms for collective buy-in and implementation of national development strategies. But setting up institutions is not enough; they must function. They must be monitored and evaluated.

Human capital development is essential for turning Malawi’s youth bulge into a demographic dividend rather than a demographic disaster. Policies and programmes to skill the youth and make them more productive are vital to harnessing the demographic dividend.

The three enablers of development require the drivers of strong leadership and good governance. Malawi has not reaped much from its peace and stability because of a political culture characterised by patron-clientelism, corruption, ethnic and regional mobilisation, and crass populism that eschews policy consistency and coherence, and undermines fiscal discipline. Malawi’s once highly regarded civil service became increasingly politicised and demoralised. Public servants and leaders at every level and in every institutional context have to restore and model integrity, enforce rules and procedures, embody professionalism and a high work ethic, and be accountable. Impunity must be severely punished to de-institutionalise corruption, whose staggering scale shows that domestic resources for development are indeed available. To quote the popular saying by Arthur Drucker, “organisational culture eats strategy”.

Also critical is the need to forge social capital, which refers to the development of a shared sense of identity, understanding, norms, values, common purpose, reciprocity, and trust. There is abundant research that shows a positive correlation between the social capital of trust and various aspects of national and institutional development and capabilities to manage crises. Weak or negative social capital has many deleterious consequences. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this devastatingly clear – countries in which the citizenry is polarised and lacks trust in the leadership have paid a heavy price in terms of the rates of infection and deaths.

Impunity must be severely punished to de-institutionalise corruption, whose staggering scale shows that domestic resources for development are indeed available. To quote the popular saying by Arthur Drucker, “organisational culture eats strategy”.

The question of social capital underscores the fact that there are many different types of capital in society and for development. Often in development discourse the focus is on economic capital, including financial and physical resources. Sustainable development requires the preservation of natural capital. Malawi’s development has partly depended on the unsustainable exploitation of environmental resources that has resulted in corrosive soil erosion and deforestation. Development planning must encompass the mobilisation of other forms of capital, principally social and cultural capital. The diaspora is a major source of economic, social and cultural capital. In fact, it is Africa’s largest donor, which remitted an estimated $84.3 billion in 2019.

In conclusion, Malawi’s development trajectory has been marked by progress, volatility, setbacks, and challenges. For a long time, Malawi’s problem has not been a lack of planning, but rather a lack of implementation, focus and abandoning the very basics of required integrity in all day-to-day work. Also, the plans are often dictated by donors and lack local ownership so they gather the proverbial bureaucratic dust.

Let us strive to cultivate the systems, cultures, and mindsets of inclusion and innovation so essential for the construction of developmental and democratic states, as defined by Thandika and many illustrious African thinkers and political leaders.

This article is the author’s keynote address at the official opening of the 1st National Development Conference presided by the State President of Malawi, His Excellency Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, at the Bingu International Convention Centre, Lilongwe, on 27 August, 2020.

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Kenya’s Gulag: The Dehumanisation and Exploitation of Inmates in State Prisons

Kenyan prisons today carry the DNA of their forebears – the colonial prisons and Mau Mau detention camps. They are about brutalising prisoners into submission and scaring the rest of society into compliance with the state. And like their colonial predecessors, they are also sites of forced labour.

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The influx of the Mau Mau transformed the prison population in Kenya from one predominantly made up of recidivist petty criminals and tax defaulters to one composed largely of political prisoners, many of whom had no experience of prison life and who brought with them new forms of organisation.

Prison life was harsh, with its share of brutalities and fatalities. Between 1928 and 1930, about 200 prisoners in Kenya died. According to British historian David Anderson, “Kenya’s prisons were already notably violent before 1952 [when the Mau Mau uprising began], more violent than other British colonies.”

However, the incorporation of prisons and detention camps into the “Pipeline” (the system developed by the colonial state to deal with the Mau Mau insurgents and to try and break them using terror and torture) inevitably led to the institutionalisation of the methods of humiliation and torture.

As Anderson notes, “Most of the staff in both the Prison Service and in the [Mau Mau] detention camps were Africans. Some were even Kikuyu. They certainly ‘learned’ these methods during their periods of early employment.” He goes on to say that “those who ran the service by the 1960s and early 1970s were all men who had been recruited and trained during the Mau Mau period”. He thinks it “very likely that these individuals practiced what they had learned as cadets and trainees in the 1950s…I think the Mau Mau experience certainly hardened Kenya’s prison system and introduced a greater range of punishments and harsher treatment for prisoners as a consequence of the conditions off the Emergency”.

Compare, for example, this account of the treatment of Mau Mau detainees in the 1950s published in Caroline Elkins’ book, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya:

Regardless of where they were in the Pipeline (the system of camps established for deradicalizing Mau Mau detainees and prisoners), roll call meant squatting in groups of five with their hands clasped over their heads. The European commandants would then walk through the lines, counting and beating the detainees. “The whole thing was just so ridiculous,” recalled one former detainee from Lodwar. “Whitehouse [the European in charge] would just count us over and over again.”

It bears stark similarities to this account published in the Daily Nation about conditions in Kenyan prisons 65 years later:

Omar Ismael, 64, a former Manyani inmate who served nine years till his exoneration in 2017, says he woke up at 5am, despite his advanced aged. They then squat in groups of five to be counted and checked by guards. “My knees are still hurting to date. I have a joint problem too as a result,” he says. He says they had at least six head counts per day. The first one at 5am, followed by 10am, noon, 4pm, 6pm and 7pm.

Kenyan prisons today carry the DNA of their forebears – the colonial prisons and Mau Mau detention camps. They are about brutalising prisoners into submission and, along with the police and military, scaring the rest of society into compliance with the state. They are places of dehumanisation, abandonment and retribution. And like their colonial parents, they prefer to employ the least educated. (At present, out of a staff complement of 22,000, the Kenya Prison Service only has about 700 graduate officers.) As of 2015, according to the World Prison Population List prepared by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, Kenya has incarcerated more of its citizens per 100,000 population than any other country in Eastern Africa with the exception of Rwanda and Ethiopia.

Notably, about 50 per cent of Kenya’s 54,000 prisoners are pre-trial detainees or those held in remand as they await trial – people legally considered innocent. By comparison, the median proportion of pre-trial prisoners in Africa is 40 per cent and nearly 30 per cent globally. In Eastern Africa, only Uganda and Ethiopia have a higher proportion of pre-trial detainees than Kenya. As in colonial times, pre-trial detention is driven by two factors – the need to extract resources from the populace and the subjugation of the native through criminalisation of ordinary life.

In 1933, submissions to the Bushe Commission provided some flavour of how the threat of arrest and imprisonment was ever-present among the natives.

Relates one Ishmael Ithongo:

Once I was arrested by a District Officer on account of my hat because I did not see him approaching. He came from behind and threw it down. I asked him why because I did not know him. He called an askari and asked for my name. It was in a district outside. He asked me, “Don’t you know the law here that you should take off your hat when you see a white man?” Then he asked me, “Have you got your kipandi?’ I said “No, Sir.” So I was sent to prison… When an askari thinks that you look smart he asks if you have your kipandi. I have seen natives who are going to church in the morning who have changed their coat and forgotten their kipandi. They meet an askari. “Have you got your kipandi?” “No.” “Ah right” and they are marched off to prison.

This will sound familiar to many Kenyans today whose encounters with the police often begin with demands for the production of the kipande (ID card) and end with a stint in overcrowded police cells. However, there are some differences. An audit of pre-trial detention by the National Council on the Administration of Justice found that police generally arrested and charged people for petty offences, with close to half of those arrests occurring over weekends. Most releases from police custody also happened over the weekend with no reason recorded for two-thirds of those releases. Further, only 30 percent of all arrests actually elicited a charge, the vast majority for petty offences. This implies that most police detentions today are something of a catch-and-release programme designed to create opportunities to extract bribes rather than labour.

However, for those who get incarcerated, matters are somewhat different. The exploitation of prisoners’ labour continues. Like the Mau Mau detainees, they are required to work for a token amount determined by the government, which, unlike its colonial ancestor, does not even pretend that the 30 Kenyan cents per day is meant as a wage, with the Attorney-General declaring in court that “prison labour is an integral component of the sentence”. The courts have held that it is entirely compatible with the protection of fundamental rights for the Prison Service to do this as well as to deny convicts basic supplies such as soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and toilet paper. Apparently, the conditions the convicts are experiencing cannot be called forced labour and servitude because, the strange reasoning goes, “the Constitution and the Prisons Act do not permit forced labour or servitude”.

Notably, about 50 per cent of Kenya’s 54,000 prisoners are pre-trial detainees or those held in remand as they await trial – people legally considered innocent…In Eastern Africa, only Uganda and Ethiopia have a higher proportion of pre-trial detainees.

Like in colonial times, the beneficiaries of this prison industrial complex are the state and those who control it. Remandees and convicts are liable to be put to work cleaning officials’ compounds and there have been persistent rumours of them being compelled to provide free labour for the private benefit of prison officers and other well-connected government officials, as is the case in Uganda.

While in 1930 earnings from convicts’ labour accounted for a fifth of the total cost of the Prisons Department, the official goal today, as declared by the Ministry of Interior, is for the Department to transform into a “financially self-sustaining entity”. To achieve this, President Uhuru Kenyatta has created the Kenya Prisons Enterprise Corporation with the aim of “unlocking the revenue potential of the prisons industry” and to “foster ease of entry into partnership with the private sector”.

This basically entails deeper exploitation of prisoners’ labour. And even though Kenyatta speaks of improving remuneration, it is notable that this is not a free exchange. Whatever the courts might say, it is clear that the state and its owners feel entitled to the labour of those they have incarcerated, much like their predecessors (the colonial regime and the European settlers) once felt entitled to African labour.

This will sound familiar to many Kenyans today whose encounters with the police often begin with demands for the production of the kipande (ID card) and end with a stint in overcrowded police cells. However, there are some differences. An audit of pre-trial detention…found that police generally arrested and charged people for petty offences, with close to half of those arrests occurring over weekends.

In this regard, the attitude is very like that of the white settler in Kiambu, Henry Tarlton, who told the 1912 Native Labour Commission regarding desertion by African workers that “this is my busiest season and my work is entirely upset, and it is hardly surprising if I am in a red-hot state bordering on a desire to murder everyone with a black skin who comes within sight”. Another white settler, Frank Watkins, in a letter to the East African Standard in 1927 boasted of his “methods of handling and working labour”, which included “thrash[ing] my boys if they deserve it”.

This brutality, especially directed towards African males, was paired with forced labour from the very onset of the colonial experience. (Brett Shadle, Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Virginia Tech, notes that the settlers were much more reticent about their violence on African women, which tended to be sexual in nature.) These settlers were already pushing the colonial state to institute unpaid forced labour on public works projects in the reserves (which it eventually did) as a means of driving Africans to wage employment for Europeans.

But it was within the prison system and Mau Mau detention camps that the practice of forced labour found its full expression. According to Christian G. De Vito and Alex Lichtenstein, “Conditions inside the detention camps created in Kenya in the 1910s and 1920s and in the prison camps opened in 1933 depended on the assumption that forced labour, together with corporal punishment, could actually serve as the only effective forms of penal discipline.” The influx of Mau Mau detainees, they explained, overwhelmed the system “since police repression by far exceeded the capacity of the already overcrowded prisons, and the colonial government decided to establish a network of camps, collectively called the ‘Pipeline’, characterized by violence, torture, and forced labour.”

These are the footsteps in which the Kenyan state is walking. Nelson Mandela once said that a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but by how it treats its lowest ones. By that measure, the current Kenyan state is no different from its colonial predecessor.

“It is also worth thinking about what happens to the prison at the end of colonialism,” says Prof Anderson. “There is no movement for prison reform in Kenya after 1963 – rather the opposite: the prison regime becomes harsher and is even less well funded than it was in colonial times. By the end of the 1960s, Kenya is being heavily criticised by international groups for the declining state of its prison system and the tendency to violence and abuse of human rights within the system.”

Prof Daniel Branch stresses that “post-colonial prisons urgently need a history. The Mau Mau period rightly gets lots of attention, but there’s very little by scholars on the post-colonial period”.

It is critical, as Kenya marks a decade since the promulgation of the 2010 constitution, that we keep in mind Mandela’s words and ask whether, if at all, it has changed how those condemned by society – “our lowest ones” – are treated. That will, in the end, be the true measure of our transformation.

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The Myth of Unconditionality in Development Aid

Based on interviews and ethnographic fieldwork in Western Kenya, Mario Schmidt argues that local interpretations of Give Directly’s unconditional cash transfer program unmask how the NGO’s ‘myth of unconditionality’ obscures structural inequalities of the development aid sector. Schmidt argues that in order to tackle these structural inequalities, cash transfers should be ‘ungifted’ and viewed as debts repaid and not as gifts offered.

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The New York Times praises the US-American NGO GiveDirectly (GD), a GiveWell top charity, for offering a ‘glimpse into the future of not working’ and journalists from the UK to Kenya discuss GD’s unconditional cash transfer program as a revolutionary alternative in the field of development aid. German podcasts as well as international bestsellers such as Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists portray grateful beneficiaries whose lives have truly changed for the better since they received GD’s unconditional cash and started to invest it like the business people they were always meant to be. At first glance, GD indeed has an impressive CV.

Since 2009, the NGO has distributed over US$160 million of unconditional cash transfers to over tens of thousands of poor people in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, the USA and Liberia in an allegedly unbureaucratic, corrupt-free and transparent way. Recipients are ‘sensitized’ in communal meetings (baraza), the cash transfers are evaluated by teams of internationally renowned behavioral economists conducting rigorous randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and the money arrives in the recipients’ mobile money wallets such as the ones from Mpesa, Kenya’s celebrated FinTech miracle, without passing through the hands of local politicians.

In 2015 and after finalizing a pilot program in the Western Kenyan constituency Rarieda (Siaya County), GD decided to penetrate my ethnographic field site, Homa Bay County. On the one hand, they thereby hoped to enlarge their pool of potential beneficiaries. On the other hand, they had planned to conduct further large-scale RCTs (one RCT implemented in the area, studied the effects of motivational videos on recipients’ spending behavior). To the surprise of GD, almost 50% of the households considered eligible for the program in Homa Bay County refused to participate. As a result, the household heads waived GD’s cash transfer which would have consisted of three transfers amounting to a total of 110,000 Kenyan Shillings (roughly US$1,000).

In order to understand what had happened in Homa Bay County and why so many households had refused to participate, I teamed up with Samson Okech, a former field officer of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) who had conducted surveys for GD in Siaya. Samson had been an IPA employee for over ten years and belongs to the extended family I work with most closely during fieldwork. During our long qualitative interviews with recipients of GD’s cash transfer and former field officers as well as Western Kenyans who refused to be enrolled in the program, the celebratory reports by journalists and scholars were replaced by a bleaker picture of an intervention riddled with misunderstandings and problems.

Before I offer a glimpse into what happened on the ground, I want to emphasize that I am neither politically nor economically against unconditional cash transfers which, without a doubt, have helped many individuals in Western Kenya and elsewhere. It is not the what, but the how against which I direct my critique. The following two sections illustrate that a substantial part of Homa Bay County’s population did not consider GD’s intervention as a one-time affair between themselves and GD. In contrast, they interpreted GD’s program either as an invitation into a long-term relationship of patronage or as a one-time transfer with obscured actors.

These interpretations should make us aware of ethical problems entailed in conducting social experiments (see Kvangraven’s piece on Impoverished Economics, Chelwa’s and Muller’s The Poverty of Poor Economics or Ouma’s reflection upon GD’s randomisation process in Western Kenya). They can also crucially encourage us to think about ways of radically reconfiguring the political economy of development aid in Africa and elsewhere.

Instead of framing relations between the West and the Rest as relations between charitable donors and obedient recipients, in my conclusion I propose to ‘ungift’ unconditional cash transfers as well as development aid as a whole. Taking inspiration from rumors claiming that Barack Obama, whose father came from Western Kenya, has created GD in order to rectify historical injustices, I suggest rethinking cash transfers as reparations or debts repaid. Consequently, recipients should no longer be used as ‘guinea pigs’ but appreciated as equal partners and autonomous subjects entitled to reap a substantial portion of the value produced in a global capitalist economy that, historically as well as structurally, depends on exploiting them.

Why money needs to be spent on ‘visible things’

Those were guidelines on how to use the money. It was important that what you did with the money was visible and could be evaluated’, William Owino explained to us after we had asked him about a ‘brochure’ several other respondents had mentioned. One of the studies on the impact of GD’s activities in Siaya also mentions these brochures. In order to ‘emphasize the unconditional nature of the transfer, households were provided with a brochure that listed a large number of potential uses of the transfer.’ 

When being asked which type of photographs and suggestions were included in these brochures, respondents mentioned photographs of newly constructed houses with iron sheets, clothes, food and other gik manenore (‘visible things’). When we inquired further if the depicted uses included drinking alcohol, betting, dancing or other morally ambiguous goods and services, the majority of our respondents dismissed that question by laughing or by adding that field officers had also advised them against using the money for other morally dubious services such as paying prostitutes or bride wealth for a second or third wife.

One of our respondents in Homa Bay took the issue of gik manenore to its extreme by expressing the opinion that GD’s money must be used to build a house with a fixed amount of iron sheets and according to a preassigned architectural plan so that GD, in their evaluation, would be able to identify the houses whose owners had benefited from their program quickly and without much effort. Such practices of ‘anticipatory obedience’ are also implicitly at work in the rationalizations of another respondent. He expected that GD’s field officers who had asked him questions about what he intended to do with the money during the initial survey – questions whose answers had, in his opinion, qualified him to receive the cash transfer – would one day return to see if he had really used the money according to his initially stated intention. The logic employed is clear: The ‘unconditional’ cash transfers needed to be spent on useful and, if possible, visible and countable things so that GD would return with further funds after a positive evaluation.

Recipients understood the relation with GD not as a one-off affair, but as an entrance into a long-term relation of fruitful dependency. In contrast to GD which, like most neoliberal capitalists, understands unconditional cash as a context-independent techno-fix, the inhabitants of Homa Bay framed money as an entity embedded in and crystallizing social power relations.

From such a perspective, free money is not really free, but like Marcel Mauss’ famous gifts, an invitation into a ‘contract by trial’ which has the potential to turn into a long-term relationship benefitting both partners if recipients pass the test and reciprocate with obedience. While some actors framed the offer of unconditional cash as a test that could lead into an ongoing patron-client relationship between charitable donors and obedient recipients, others, the majority who refused to accept GD’s offer, interpreted it as a direct exchange relation with unseen actors.

Why money is never free

‘People in the market and those I met going home told me it is blood money’, Mary, a 40-year old mother remembered. After she had been sampled, Mary had never received money from GD but failed to understand why and believed the village elder had ‘eaten’ her money. She further told us that rumors about ‘blood money’ circulated in church services and funeral festivities. ‘Blood money’ refers to widespread beliefs that accepting GD’s cash implied entering into a debt relation with unknown actors such as a local group sacrificing children or the devil.

Comparable rumors playing with the well-known anthropological trope of money’s (anti)-reproductive potential circulate widely in Homa Bay: Husbands who wake up only to see their wives squatting in a corner of the room laying eggs, a huge snake that lives in Lake Victoria and vomits out all the money GD uses, mobile phones that can be charged under the armpit or find their way into the recipient’s bed if lost or thrown away (many people allegedly threw their phones away in order to cut the link to GD), money that replenishes automatically or a devilish cult of Norwegians that abducts Kenyan babies and transports them to Scandinavia where they are adopted into infertile marriages.

All of these rumors, which are epitomized in a phrase some recipients considered to be GD’s slogan, Idak maber, to idak matin – (‘You live well, but you live short’) – revolve around the same paradox: Money initially offered with no strings attached, but whose reproductive potential will soon demand blood sacrifice or lead to a fundamental change in one’s own reproductive capacities.

Local attempts to ‘conditionalize’ GD’s unconditional cash as well as rumors about tit-for-tat exchanges with the devil undermine GD’s assumption that their cash transfers are perceived by recipients as unconditional. This has two consequences. On the one hand, it questions the validity of studies trying to prove that the program was successful as an unconditional cash transfer program. On the other hand, it urges us to focus on the unintended consequences caused by GD’s intervention. While Western Kenyans who have given consent to participate in the intervention invested their hopes in an ongoing charitable relation with GD, those who have refused to participate – as well as some who did – have been haunted by fear and anxiety triggered by situating GD’s activities in a hidden sphere.

All this raises ethical and political questions about GD’s intervention in Homa Bay County. Did GD, an actor that is neither democratically elected nor constitutionally backed up, have the right to intervene in an area where almost 50 % of the population refused to participate? Did the program really reach the poorest members of society if accepting the offer depended on understanding the complex networks of NGOs that constitute the aid landscape? Should it not be considered problematic that a US-American NGO uses whole counties of an independent country as laboratories where they experimentally test the feasibility of unconditional cash transfers in order to assure their donors that recipients of unconditional cash ‘really’ do not spend donations on alcohol and prostitutes?

Apart from raising these and other ethical and political questions, the reactions of the inhabitants of Homa Bay County can be understood as mirrors reflecting a distorted but illuminating image of the development aid sector. Narratives about women laying eggs and satanic cults sacrificing children exemplify an awareness of the fact that, on a structural level, the development aid sector is shot through with inequalities and obscure hierarchical power relations between donating and receiving actors. At the same time, recipients’ anticipatory obedience to use the cash on ‘visible things’ unmasks a system that appears overwhelmed by the necessity to constantly evaluate projects in order to secure further funding.

By ‘conditionalizing’ cash transfers as long-term patronage relations or tit-for-tat exchanges with the devil, inhabitants of Homa Bay unmask GD’s ‘myth of unconditionality’ and thereby relocate GD into the wider development aid world in which they have never been equal partners.

Why we must ‘ungift’ development aid

‘I think it was because of Obama’, a former colleague of Samson who had administered the surveys of GD in Siaya County told me while we enjoyed a meal in a restaurant along Nairobi’s Moi Avenue after I had asked him why the rejection rates of GD’s program in Siaya had been so low. According to rumors that circulated widely during GD’s first years in Siaya, Barack Obama, whose father came from a village in Siaya County, had teamed up with Raila Odinga, an almost mythical Luo politician, in order to channel US-American funds ‘directly’ to Western Kenya, i.e. without passing through the Central Kenyan political elite who had – in 2007 as well as 2013 – ‘stolen’ the elections from Raila.

As a consequence, at least some recipients did not agree with interpretations of the cash transfers as market exchanges with shadowy actors or invitations into long-term relationships of patronage. Rather, they conceptualized the transfers as reparations originating in Obama’s attempt to recoup losses accumulated by the Luo community due to political injustices provoked by the actions of what many consider to be a corrupt Kikuyu elite. This conjuring of a primordial ethnic alliance between Obama and Western Kenyans might strike many as chimerical.

Be that as it may, we should acknowledge that the rumor of Obama’s intervention situates the cash transfers in a social relation between two equals who accept their mutual indebtedness and act accordingly by putting things straight. By reinterpreting GD as a clandestine operation invented by their political leaders, Barack Obama and Raila Odinga, inhabitants of Siaya portray themselves as belonging to a community of interdependent equals whose members are entitled to what the anthropologist James Ferguson has called their ‘rightful share’.

How would development aid look like if we dared to transfer this idea of a community whose members acknowledge their equality and mutual indebtedness to our global economic system? One way to redeem the fact that we all live in a highly connected capitalist economic system spanning the whole globe and depending on exploiting a huge portion of the global community would be to follow in the footsteps of the inhabitants of Siaya and rebrand cash transfers as reparations being paid for historical and structural injustices.

By way of conclusion, I want to suggest the idea of ‘ungifting’ development aid, i.e. to reframe it as a duty and to accept that recipients of cash transfers have the right to receive their share of the value produced by the global capitalist economic system. Consequently, cash transfers should be considered as debts repaid and not as gifts offered.


Names of individuals in this article have been anonymized.

This article was first published in the Review of African Political Economy.

Names of individuals in this article have been anonymized.

 

 

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